Maximizing Prevention Efforts

Drug use is a global problem. Prevention starts with a community that cares about the vulnerable and it involves families, teachers, youth leaders, and mentors among others. We must start to think globally and act locally to curb drug use and drug trafficking. Together we can work towards effective problem-solving strategies, teaching communities how to assess their local substance abuse-related problems and develop a comprehensive plan to address them. [1]
- Yury Fedotov, UNODC, Executive Director

The abuse of alcohol and drugs costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year; however, we could not begin to put a price on the emotional cost that family members and loved ones must bear. The question then is, what can be done to eliminate or even control the abuse of drugs? Do prevention efforts work? Can we as family members, friends, schools, workplaces, communities make a difference?

Over the last several decades, researchers have identified different principles that have proven effective and numerous programs developed for parents, schools and communities have shown great promise. In this section of the website, we provide suggestions for schools and communities. Information for parents and caregivers can be found on our Power of Parents page. 

When thinking about preventing substance abuse and addiction, it is important to keep in mind that prevention is a process rather than a destination. There are also no one-size-fits-all solutions or strategies. 

 

The Big Picture

It is universally accepted that, like any other commodity, the two main areas of concern when it comes to substance abuse prevention are Supply and Demand. Most countries have initiatives aimed at reducing both the supply of drugs and the demand for them. In recent years, there has been a stronger focus on reducing the harm caused by substance abuse. 

  • Supply reduction aims to limit the amount of drugs available to the user through interdiction, legal penalties, and incarceration.

  • Demand reduction tries to reduce craving and drug demand through primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention strategies. Refinements of these strategies include universal, selective and indicated prevention.

  • Harm reduction limits the harm users do to themselves and to society. It focuses on techniques to minimize the personal and social problems associated with drug use rather than making abstinence the primary goal.

Each of these areas are important and have their place in society. However, it is important to keep in mind that in order to prevent something – in this case substance abuse – we must look at the root cause and take actions that might help prevent that use, or at least delay the onset of use (as science tells us that the earlier the onset, the greater the risk of harm).

Another way to think about prevention is what’s referred to as “Upstream Thinking”.  CLICK HERE for a link to a You Tube video that illustrates what is meant by the term “Upstream Thinking”. 

Researchers and others working in the prevention arena often refer to three types of prevention: primary, secondary, and tertiary and it can be helpful to understand the difference: 

  • Primary prevention efforts are designed to anticipate and prevent or delay initial drug use. Many studies have demonstrated that the age of first use is the strongest predictor of future drug or alcohol problems.

  • Secondary prevention seeks to halt drug use once it has begun and adds intervention strategies to education and skill building.

  • Tertiary prevention seeks to stop further damage from habituation, abuse, and addiction to drugs and to restore an abuser to health. [1]

Much more on the three types of prevention, and other excellent information about drugs can be found in a book called: Uppers, Downers, All Arounders. CLICK HERE.

 

Risk and Protective Factors

Researchers have made great strides in identifying what works and what doesn’t when it comes to addressing substance abuse within the family, in schools, and in the community. They refer to this as “risk and protective factors” with a goal to designing programs that strengthen protective factors and reduce risk factors.

Some examples of protective factors include developing strong social skills, strong and positive family bonds, attachment to school, and strong bonds with institutions such as school and religious organizations. Examples of risk factors include chaotic home environments (particularly where a parent abuses substances or suffer from mental illnesses), lack of parent-child attachments, failure in school performance and poor social coping skills that increase vulnerability to drug abuse. 

It should be noted that research has shown that many of the same factors apply to other behaviours such as youth violence, delinquency, school dropout, teen pregnancy and more. Also, all children may be exposed to some mix of risk and protective factors, and some children are more resilient and able to avoid getting into difficulty.

For a more complete list of potential risk and protective factors from early childhood to young adulthood, CLICK HERE

 

Prevention Strategies for Schools

Schools have a powerful role to play when it comes to prevention because they are often the first to see warning signs of possible drug problems, such as poor attendance and declining academic performance. Most effective school programs teach youth to resist drugs by developing personal and social skills such as decision-making, stress management, communication skills, conflict resolution and assertiveness. With these new skills and understandings, youth are better able to resist the pressure to use drugs.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) has developed a document entitled “Canadian Standards for School-Based Youth Substance Abuse Prevention” as part of a broader strategy, the Drug Prevention Strategy for Canada’s Youth. The Standards serve as a roadmap to help schools reflect on where they are now, where they wish to go, and what areas of program development will prove beneficial in their prevention efforts.

The document states that the best prevention efforts are woven into the core mission of health promoting schools. A health-promoting school is one that is constantly strengthening its capacity as a healthy setting for learning, working, and playing. [2] 

Administrators and staff in such schools understand that: 

  • the many attributes of a health-promoting school help prevent problematic substance use by students and staff; 

  • efforts to prevent substance abuse and promote student well-being contribute directly to academic success; and 

  • effective prevention doesn’t necessarily mean working more, but refocusing resources to what has been shown to work. [3]

The CCSA report goes on to say that to maximize effectiveness, school-based strategies work best when situated alongside community-wide strategies that reach young people in other parts of the system, such as families, recreational environments, post-secondary institutions, youth media, workplaces and bars.

For additional information on school programs, please refer to our Resources Page. We have prepared a chart comparing three similar school-based programs that make good “foundational programs” from which to build a strong school-based prevention strategy. In addition, we have prepared a chart that compares these three programs to the BC School Curriculum Core Competencies.

 

Prevention Strategies for Communities

One of the realities of prevention is that there is no quick fix. One of the biggest mistakes made in the field is to think that any single, stand-alone program can, by itself, be effective in reducing substance abuse. No single program should be expected to accomplish what it takes a Comprehensive Prevention Strategy (CPS) to achieve. Although there are many great programs available, they are all much more effective when used as part of a CPS. A CPS consists of a number of programs or initiatives with a common message from many different sources, continued over a long period of time.

Examples of successful CPS’s in other areas are: anti-smoking, drinking and driving, and wearing seatbelts. Each of these efforts has taken almost half a century and has taught us the following:

• First knowledge must change, then attitudes, and finally practices.

• The job is never complete and needs to be repeated with each new generation.  

• Over time, prevention efforts become more difficult to sustain.

• No single approach works consistently.

he above-noted CPS’s received input from national, provincial and community-based organizations. However, there is ample evidence that a community-based CPS can be effective.  An example of a British Columbia community-based CPS can be found HERE.

Setting up a community-based CPS requires some basic steps. First, someone takes the initiative to call a meeting of like-minded community partners and then take the following steps: 

  • Bring people together

  • Identify the issue(s)

  • Develop a vision (what you would like to see in the future)

  • Document what is currently being done

  • Identify gaps/needs or areas for improvement (Think Upstream)

  • Search for ways and means to fill gaps (potential solutions, programs/initiatives)

  • Choose and Implement best options available for your community (consider capacity to deliver)

  • Evaluate, adjust and involve

It helps to have some sort of matrix to record information and identify gaps. The goal is to fill in as many initiatives/programs as possible.  A school could simple use a matrix of the grades from K to 12.  For an example of a matrix used for a geographic community which could easily be adapted, CLICK HERE

Other sources of information about a community-based CPS for substance abuse can be found at these sites: 

 

References

1. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Campaign, Global Action for Healthy Communities. Web

2. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2010). Building on our strengths: Canadian standards for school-based youth substance abuse prevention (version 2.0). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. P. 19

3. Ibid, P. 3

4. Inaba, Darryl and William E. Cohen. Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. Ashland, Or.: CNS Publications, 2000. Chapt. 8.

5. Ibid.

When Drugs Take Over

People with addiction don’t start out thinking that they will become addicted to a substance. When they had their first few drinks or tokes thinking it would be a fun thing to do, it never occurred that a day would come when their life started to revolve around getting and taking drugs. That nothing but the drug would matter to them. It never occurred to them that there would come a time when their choice in the matter would be either severely limited or taken away entirely.

Through recent scientific advances, we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever before. Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted individuals show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Together, these changes can drive an abuser to seek out and take drugs compulsively despite adverse, even devastating consequences. When brain chemistry changes, the mind is tricked into thinking it NEEDS the drug to function. A physical addiction sets in and the person must have the drug.

 

When abuse becomes addiction

Almost all of us know someone who uses. How much we use ranges from abstinence (nothing at all) to experimental use to recreational use to chemically dependent use (addiction). At what point does someone who uses alcohol or drugs cross that line into addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. [1]

Here are a few indicators that addiction is setting in: [2]

  • Neglecting responsibilities

  • Using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high

  • Getting into legal trouble.

  • Drug use causing problems for relationships

  • Building up a drug tolerance

  • Taking drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms

  • Losing control over drug use

  • Life revolves around drug use

  • Abandoning activities you used to enjoy

  • Continuing to use drugs despite knowing it’s hurting you

From the perspective of a person with addiction, they need to take the drug to feel “normal” or to feel “good.” There is no choice.

There is no single factor that can predict whether you will become addicted to drugs. Risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of factors that include your individual biology and genetics, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors you have, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.[3]

Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to a substance use disorder which poses a special challenge to adolescents. Because areas in the brain that govern decision-making, judgment, and self-control are still developing, teens may be especially prone to experimentation. [4]

Long-term use causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that influences the reward circuit and the ability to learn. When the optimal concentration of glutamate is altered by drug abuse, the brain attempts to compensate, which can impair cognitive function. [5]

 

Concerned about your drug use?

What role do drugs play in your life? Have you ever had a negative experience? Here are some tools to help you understand your drinking and drug use and suggestions for how to stay safe:

  • Understand your drinking: From Drink Aware in the U.K., here are some quizzes to help you understand your relationship with alcohol. They even have suggestions on what steps to take if you do want to make a change.

  • Check where I’m at with weed: “What’s with Weed” has a quiz you can take to see where you stand with marijuana. There are also tips to reduce your harms and see what others teens are saying about weed.

  • Drug use quiz: From mindcheck.ca, this quiz can help you identify if there is a problem. You can also learn about depression, anxiety, and body image.  There are a lot of quizzes and resources for you to check out here.

  • CRAFFT: Designed specifically for you, the CRAFFT test is self-administered. You can take the test and if you answer yes to more than two of the questions consider talking with a trusted adult about your substance use. 

Do you think you, or someone you know, needs a little extra help? Then you’re not alone. Many people in your own community struggle with similar problems. Your community has a lot of resources available to you including group meeting, people to talk to, and more.  Check out this site for the latest on how drug affect brain and body.  

 

Getting help

In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so. Through scientific advances, we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people reduce and even stop using drugs.

For the substance user, a life free from all chemicals is a terrifying prospect. However, it is possible to attain full recovery if treated professionally. To successfully arrest addictions, a total multi-disciplinary treatment approach is necessary — one that involves medical, behavioral, and social sciences, as well as philosophical and spiritual wisdom.

Some people may quit using willpower alone, but unless the illness has been properly treated, they are more likely to start drinking/using again. Unless and until someone with addiction achieves personal integrity and attains inner security, they are powerless to live free from chemicals.

 

  1. "Understanding Drug Use and Addiction." DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Web.

  2. "Drug Abuse and Addiction. Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse.” HELPGUIDE.ORG. Web.

  3. Wilcox, Stephen. "Understanding Addiction." National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Web.

  4. Ibid.

  5. "Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction." PsycEXTRA Dataset (n.d.): National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web.

  6. "Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction." DrugFacts: Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). February 2016. Web.

Staying Safe

Checking out a music concert, going to the beach at night, or heading to a friend’s house for a party are all great ways of having fun. The last thing you want is for your night to get ruined by not playing it right with drugs and alcohol.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your friends out of a sticky situation and let everyone have a good time:

Plan your night: Think about how you’re getting back from a party and where you’re staying. Maybe call someone ahead of time for a ride. Decide ahead of time if you’re going to stay sober, then make a plan on how to say “no” and at what point you will leave. If you’re going to be drinking or getting high, set yourself a limit, especially if you have something to do tomorrow. Combine forces with a friend to keep each other in check.

Take it easy: It’s no secret that teens have some of the highest rates of binge drinking - among youth who drink, 39% binge drink.[1] And binge drinking can cause a whole host of unpleasant things, including increased risk of sexual assault, unprotected sex, vomiting, and blackout.[2] Being as high as a kite can be pretty unpleasant too sometimes.

So what can you do to make sure your night isn’t wrecked? Follow these guidelines:

  • Limit yourself to 2 drinks for females and 3 for males.[3]

  • Marijuana: wait 3-4 hours before driving, use small amounts and wait to feel effects. [4]

  • All other substances: use in small amounts, never use alone, drink water and if you’re dancing or feeling overwhelmed, go to a cooler location to cool down and relax.

Know where to find help: If you’re uncomfortable at a party, you can always leave. Calling someone you trust or a parent to come pick you up is a smart move. And bring your friends with you! If you see someone who may have overdosed, stay with them and call 911 immediately. To better understand your drug use, check out this cool site.

Avoiding a forgotten night: No one wants to forget their night out, or worry about what they may have done. Avoid a forgotten night by not accepting drinks from strangers and never leaving your drink unattended.

Have each other’s backs: One of the best things you can do as a friend is look out for each other at a party, especially one where you don’t know many people. Watch out for your friends and make sure they don’t go home with someone they don’t want to.

 

Drugged Driving

We’ve all heard “don’t drink and drive!” From not being able to focus properly and impaired perception, to slowing down your reaction time and muddling your thinking, driving after drinking can be deadly.[5] In Canada, alcohol is involved in thousands of car crashes every year which cause injury or death.

What about driving stoned? Studies have found that teens are more likely to drive high or get in the car of someone who is high than they are with someone who has been drinking alcohol.[6]

Although much is known about driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while affected by drugs is an emerging issue. Driving involves skills and abilities such as attention, judgment, perception, concentration, physical reaction time, and coordination, all of which can be impaired by use of any mood-altering substance. This includes operating other types of vehicles as well such as boats or ATV’s, or complex machinery. The risk of a driving collision is increased if a person is using more than one drug at a time.

In Canada, it is an offense to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Even without evidence from blood or urine testing, police can lay charges based on behavioural indicators such as erratic driving, slurred speech, or lack of coordination.

It is difficult to determine the full extent of driving while impaired by drugs other than alcohol because our laws only allow for roadside blood or urine tests of drug-impaired drivers by police or medical personnel under limited circumstances. However, several studies to date have been consistent in finding that cannabis, benzodiazepines, and stimulants such as cocaine are the most commonly detected drugs in trauma victims or in blood samples sent for forensic testing.

“But I drive slower when I’m high”: Does slowing down make you a better driver? Driving high makes it more difficult and confusing to navigate a vehicle. Your perception of your surroundings, coordination, and balance becomes flawed.[7] Slower doesn’t mean safer if you can’t concentrate on the road. Combining alcohol and marijuana behind the wheel can be deadly. The effect of mixing is greater than using one substance alone.[8] Even if you think you’re not consuming a lot of either, you can still be impaired.

 

What can I do to stay safe?

  • For marijuana, wait 3-4 hours after your last hit, longer if you’ve consumed more.[9]

  • Never get in the car of someone who you know or think might be high or intoxicated.

  • Having any alcohol or drugs in your system and driving is illegal if you have your “L” or “N”. You may have to restart the driving stage you are in, you could get your license suspended, and you could be fined up to $500.[10]

Plan your night before you start. Think of taking public transport or call a friend you trust and get a ride. Check out this infographicHere’s brochure to check out how to be safe with marijuana.

 

Raves and club drugs

If you plan to attend a rave, night club, or music festival it is important to understand what are called “Club drugs”.  After MDMA and alcohol, there are three common drugs you need to know about: GHB, ketamine, and Rohypnol.

GHB: Short for gamma-hydroxybutyrate, this CNS depressant is naturally made in our bodies.[11] It was used in the past to treat sleeping disorders and as an anesthetic.[12] GHB comes in both liquid and powder form, dissolved in a drink it has a slightly salty taste that can easily be masked. [13] Effects start after 15 minutes and last for several hours.[14] GHB in small amounts produces euphoria, amnesia, vomiting, and loss of muscle strength. Large doses can cause seizures, coma, and loss of consciousness.[15]

Ketamine: This anesthetic is used mainly in the vet’s office for surgery. Ketamine is usually snorted or injected. Effects occur within minutes and last for about an hour. [16] This hallucinogen produces visual hallucinations at high doses, including feelings of floating outside the body called the “K-hole.” It can cause confusion, blurred vision, high blood pressure and heart rate, trouble thinking, and problems breathing. [17]

Rohypnol: No longer approved for medical use, this drug is used as a muscle relaxant, sedative, and anesthetic. [18] It comes in pill form and is undetectable when dissolved in a drink.[19] You can feel the effects after about half an hour, and it can last for 8-12 hours.[20] In small doses, you may feel your muscles relax and anxiety go down. Up the amount and you could lose consciousness, forget what happened during the night, and lose control of your body.[21] Mixing it with alcohol can be a lethal combination.[22]

 

Overdosing and what to do

An overdose of any drug is a dose that can cause serious and sudden physical or mental damage. An overdose may or may not be fatal, depending on the drug and the amount taken. Here as some signs to look for in case of a bad reaction or overdose:

  • Alcohol: vomiting, slow breathing, confusion, or trouble staying awake [23]

  • Marijuana: extreme anxiety or paranoia [24]

  • Club drugs: very high body temperature, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and agitation [25]

  • Opioids (pain killers, heroin): slowed breathing, pinpoint pupils, and unconsciousness [26]

For more on opioid overdoses, check out this graphic.

Here are some symptoms that could indicate a fentanyl overdose:[27]

  • Labored or shallow breathing

  • Small pupils

  • Cold and clammy skin

  • Extreme fatigue and sleepiness

  • Inability to talk or walk normally

  • Confusion

  • Fainting, and dizziness

If you suspect an overdose, dial 911 immediately and then…

  • Move victim to a safe area with fresh air.

  • Remove obstruction from mouth.

  • If vomiting occurs, turn victim on side to avoid choking.

  • If no pulse, perform CPR.

  • If not breathing, perform artificial respiration (mouth to mouth).

  • Keep victim as comfortable as possible until emergency personnel arrive.

  • Collect information about victim for emergency responders.

 

Fast Facts

  • Those between ages 16-24 have the highest rates of impaired driving and are the most likely to be hurt. [28]

  • Driving high doubles the risk of a car crash. [29]

  • Marijuana is the most common illicit drug found in impaired drivers. [30]

  • Weed slows your reaction time, affects your attention span and your ability to make decisions [31]

  • Driving under the influence is unsafe, no matter how much you’ve had.

  • Each year, many individuals attending Canadian music festivals are treated for drug- and alcohol related harms. In the summer of 2014, five young adults died while many more were treated onsite or admitted to hospital. Alcohol or drug use or both was strongly suspected as a contributing factor. [32]

  • Both GHB and Rohypnol are known as “date rape” drugs since they can sedate and incapacitate someone.[33] They are tasteless and odorless when mixed in alcoholic drinks. However, it is important to note as well that alcohol is probably more responsible for date rapes than these other drugs.

 

 

  1.  Smith, A., Stewart, D., Poon, C., Peled, M., Saewyc, E., & McCreary Centre Society. (2015). How many is too many for BC youth? Alcohol use and associated harms. Vancouver, B.C: McCreary Centre Society.

  2.  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much; 2015.

  3. Butt, P., Beirness, D., Gliksman, L., Paradis, C., & Stockwell, T. (2011). Alcohol and health in Canada: A summary of evidence and guidelines for low risk drinking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

  4.  Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  5.  Moskowitz,, H.; Fiorentino, D. A Review Of The Literature On The Effects Of Low Doses Of Alcohol On Driving-Related Skills; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Washington, D.C., 2000.

  6. Chamberlain, E. and Solomon, R. (2012). Drug-Impaired Driving In Canada: Review and Recommendations. MADD.

  7. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Young Brains On Cannabis: It’s Time To Clear The Smoke; Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics: Ottawa, 2015.

  8. Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  9. Fischer, B.; Jeffries, V.; Hall, W.; Room, R.; Goldner, E.; Rehm, J. Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines For Canada (LRCUG): A Narrative Review Of Evidence And Recommendations. Can J Public Health 2011, 102, 324-27.

  10. Solomon, R.; D. Perkins-Leitman, D.; Dumschat, E. A Summary Of Graduated Licensing, Short-Term And 90-Day Licence Suspensions, Alcohol Interlocks, And Vehicle Sanctions Across Canada; MADD: London, ON, 2015.

  11.  Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  12. Ibid.

  13. Teter, C.; Guthrie, S. A Comprehensive Review Of MDMA And GHB: Two Common Club Drugs. Pharmacotherapy 2001, 21, 1486-1513.

  14. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  15. Maxwell, J. Party Drugs: Properties, Prevalence, Patterns, And Problems. Substance Use Misuse 2005, 40, 1203

  16. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Maxwell, J. Party Drugs: Properties, Prevalence, Patterns, And Problems. Substance Use Misuse 2005, 40, 1203.

  19. Schwartz, R.; Milteer, R.; Lebeau, M. Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault (‘Date Rape’). Southern Medical Journal 2000, 93, 558-561.

  20. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid.

  23. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much; 2015.

  24. Moore, T.; Zammit, S.; Lingford-Hughes, A.; Barnes, T.; Jones, P.; Burke, M.; Lewis, G. Cannabis Use And Risk Of Psychotic Or Affective Mental Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. The Lancet 2007, 370, 319-328.

  25. Baylen, C.; Rosenberg, H. A Review Of The Acute Subjective Effects Of MDMA/Ecstasy. Addiction 2006, 101, 933-947.

  26. World Health Organization,. Information Sheet On Opioid Overdose; 2014.

  27. "Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms and Treatment." Waismann Method®. 11 Mar. 2016. Web.

  28. Statistics Canada,. Impaired Driving In Canada, 2011; Minister of Industry, 2013.

  29. Li, M.; Brady, J.; DiMaggio, C.; Lusardi, A.; Tzong, K.; Li, G. Marijuana Use And Motor Vehicle Crashes. Epidemiologic Reviews 2011, 34, 65-72.

  30.  Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  31. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,. Young Brains On Cannabis: It’s Time To Clear The Smoke; Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics: Ottawa, 2015.

  32. "Drugs at Music Festivals." Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Web.

  33.  Schwartz, R.; Milteer, R.; Lebeau, M. Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault (‘Date Rape’). Southern Medical Journal 2000, 93, 558-561.

Street Drugs - Do you know what you're getting?

In general, a drug is defined as any substance, other than food, which is taken to change the way the body and/or mind function. Drugs can come from plants growing wild in fields or planted as a crop, or they can be manufactured in laboratories. Drug use is often described as legal or illegal. Legal drugs include alcohol, tobacco, and prescriptions sold for medicinal purposes such as pain-killers. Illegal drugs are grown or produced to be sold on the street; prescription drugs are sometimes sold illegitimately on the street.

Buying drugs on the street is fraught with danger, the primary reason is that you simply can’t know what you are getting. For example, MDMA or ecstasy sometimes doesn’t even contain M at all but instead is cut with other chemicals, such as caffeine, amphetamine, LSD, PMA, and ketamine. Drugs like “street oxy,” heroin, or cocaine can be cut with fentanyl, so you could end up ingesting this dangerous substance without even knowing it.[1] An individual can overdose from fentanyl by ingesting only a few grains.

 

Let’s look at three of the main categories of drugs: stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens:

Stimulants

Stimulants affect the central nervous system. Examples of stimulants  include cocaine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), Ritalin (and diet pills), nicotine and caffeine. In low doses, all stimulants boost energy, raise the heart rate and blood pressure, increase respiration, and reduce appetite and thirst. They also make the user more alert, active, confident, anxious, restless, and aggressive. Stimulants can produce severe psychological dependence. Let’s take a closer look at cocaine, methamphetamine (speed, crystal meth), and prescription stimulants.

Cocaine: There are two forms of cocaine: the white powder which can be snorted, injected, or swallowed, and crack cocaine which looks like opaque crystals which make a popping noise when smoked.[2] Within minutes of snorting, your brain is flooded with dopamine, (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers causing feelings of euphoria and stimulation).[3] After the effects have worn off, people find themselves having extreme cravings for that high.[4] This is because cocaine changes the reward pathway of the brain and, over time, more and more is needed to get the same effect.[5] Some people even go on cocaine binges where they take cocaine every 10-30 minutes in order to avoid the negative side effects, such as depressed mood and energy.[6]

Besides potentially causing dependence and addiction, cocaine can have other unwanted effects. The high from smoking lasts between 5-10 minutes while snorting effects last for 15-30 minutes. Other health effects of cocaine include:

  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure [7]

  • Constriction of blood vessels [8]

  • Chest pain [9]

Those who binge on cocaine can experience a “crash” in mood and energy: depression, craving, anxiety, and even paranoia. [10]

Methamphetamine: Also known as speed, uppers, meth, crystal meth, side, chalk, ice, glass, Christmas tree, and crank, this drug can be unpredictable, addictive, and lethal. It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it, the user experiences an intense pleasurable rush that lasts only a few minutes. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria, but not an intense rush.   

eople who abuse methamphetamines feel like they don’t need to sleep and full of energy. But with repeated use methamphetamines are very damaging to the body and brain. Chronic abuse can result in heart problems, progressive social deterioration, and psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions, mood disturbances).[11]

Prescription stimulants: These include methylphenidate (ex. Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamine (ex. Adderall). Even though they’re prescriptions, these drugs come with the risk of dependence and addiction, [12] especially if they are abused. Prescription stimulants abuse can occur in many forms. These pills can be taken orally, but sometimes they are crushed up and snorted or injected. Crushing or snorting can alter how the drug behaves in our bodies, and can increase risk of abuse and dependence.[13]

Prescription stimulants are often used as “study drugs” or academic enhancers. Students use these drugs to study, help with concentration, and increase alertness.[14] But do they actually help you concentrate and learn? The research says “no”, stimulant drugs do not work as “enhancers.” [15] Only those with attention or learning deficits, such as those with diagnosed ADHD, are helped.[16]

Stimulant drug use can be dangerous. Negative side effects from taking large amounts of these drugs are: [17]

  • irregular heart rate

  • increase in blood pressure

  • trouble sleeping

  • paranoia and hostility

  • loss of appetite

  • very high body temperatures

  • seizures can occur at very high doses

 

Depressants

Included in this category of drugs are opioid analgesics (codeine, morphine, heroin, fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone), alcohol, inhalants, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and other sleeping pills. These drugs all cause a slowing down or depression of the central nervous system. At low doses they produce a feeling of calm, drowsiness, and well-being. Let’s take a closer look at fentanyl and oxycodone since both have been in the news a lot in recent years.

Fentanyl: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine.[18] Typically, it is used in hospitals as analgesic or for pain management in the form of fentanyl patches. In its prescription form, Fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.

entanyl is finding its way onto our streets either through the street trade of legitimate prescription patches, through illicitly manufactured fentanyl made into pill form to look like OxyContin, or it is cut into cocaine and heroin to create a more intense high.[19] When dealers cut it into street drugs, users have no idea of the level of purity or the potency of what they take.

Fentanyl works in the brain to change how the body feels and responds to pain. Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain's reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.[20] Opioid receptors are also found in the areas of the brain that control breathing rate. High doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death.[21] The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. The RCMP estimates a lethal dose of pure fentanyl to be in the realm of two milligrams for a typical adult… no more than a few grains of salt.[22]

Fentanyl very quickly creates a tolerance to high doses, so a dose that is adequate for the intended high one week will probably not create that intended high even a few days later.[23] If you’re not tolerant, it is a lot more likely to cause serious toxicity and even death. It severely depresses breathing and heart rate so that combined with alcohol or other drugs that slow the central nervous system, it becomes even more dangerous.[24] Numerous fentanyl overdoses are occurring in casual or recreational users who use a different drug such as cocaine, which has fentanyl inside of it.[25]

Oxycodone: This is a narcotic (OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan are the most frequently used and abused) prescribed to relieve pain that is twice as potent as morphine. OxyContin is a time-release version of oxycodone that is snorted or injected. Used as a substitute for heroin, abusers use the drug to relieve pain, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and gain euphoric effects. Police say that virtually every pill stamped as OxyContin (CDN 80) sold on the street today actually contains fentanyl which is very cheap to manufacture and thus lucrative for drug dealers.[26]

 

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens have been used for thousands of years in religious and spiritual ceremonies. These drugs alter one’s perception of reality and can make users experience things that aren’t real. They work by activating certain chemicals in your brain, mainly serotonin, affecting the way you experience the world.[27] We can find hallucinogens both in the lab (e.g. MDMA) and in nature (e.g. magic mushrooms, LSD, DMT).

Ecstasy or MDMA: or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine produces energizing effects like the stimulant amphetamine, but also acts as a hallucinogenic similar to mescaline.[28] Made in the lab, ecstasy usually comes in the form of a colourful pill, often with cartoons and icons stamped into them.[29] Nowadays MDMA is rarely ever pure, and sometimes don’t contain any at all.[30] In 2007, Health Canada found only 3% of tablets analyzed contained pure MDMA.[31] It is one of the most popular drugs when it comes to partying, often found at raves, music festivals, and dance parties for its stimulating and enhancing effects.[32]

When you pop a pill, your brain in flooded with two main chemicals: serotonin and dopamine.[33] You may experience feelings of euphoria, increased energy and sexual arousal.[34] Some people have a distorted sense of time and report feelings of closeness with others. Negative feelings can also be felt too, including anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and sweating.[35] While your brain is being flooded with serotonin and dopamine, your body is experiencing other effects. These include: [36]

  • High body temperatures, which can lead to serious liver, heart, and kidney problems

  • Sweating

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Teeth grinding/ jaw clenching

  • Increased risk of having unprotected sex

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

  • Muscle tension

MDMA causes you to go to the bathroom more. Combine that with a stuffy club, dancing, and hyperthermia, you can easily become extremely dehydrated, which can cause muscle breakdown and organ failure.[37] Long term there’s a lot of evidence that MDMA use can cause neuron damage that may last for many years. You could have difficulty concentrating, memory problems, impulsivity, and depression. [38]

Psychedelics: Psychedelics are known for their mind-altering effects. It’s hard to know how you’ll experience these drugs, especially since it depends hugely on your expectations and the environment.[39] These drugs produce hallucinations, meaning you could see, smell, taste, or feel things that aren’t actually happening. You may experience altered time sense, visual hallucinations, or even “seeing” a sound.[40]

Using these drugs can be one roller-coaster of a ride: from feeling euphoric and on top of the world one minute, to being anxious and paranoid the next.[41] So if you’re in a bad mood or suffer from depression and anxiety, these feelings can make you have a very unpleasant trip. Hallucinogens do crazy things to our minds, but they can also have effects on our bodies, including:[42,43,44]

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

  • Dilated pupils

  • Mood swings

  • Nausea and dizziness

  • Sweating

  • Tremors

  • Psychosis

Three examples of psychedelics are:

  • LSD, commonly know as acid. LSD was originally made from a fungus that grows on rye. It takes action in about 20 minutes and lasts for up to 10-12 hours.[45] It usually comes on small squares of blotter paper or in sugar cubes or liquid. Using large amounts of LSD can cause flashbacks, usually brought on by a bad trip, and can occur for up to a year after using.[46]

  • Magic mushrooms. The active ingredient psilocybin is found in certain kinds of mushrooms. They come fresh or dried, and are eaten. The effects hit after about 20-30 minutes and last for 4-6 hours.[47]

  • DMT is found in many different plants, especially in South America. DMT effects start within minutes and last between 20 minutes to an hour.[48] It usually comes in a tablet or powder and is injected, inhaled, or smoked.

 

A closer look… combining drugs

Many drugs become more dangerous when mixed. Some people may combine drugs intentionally to enhance the effects, or to counteract undesirable side-effects, or they may use a hazardous combination of drugs without intending to do so. For example, they may take sleeping medications after drinking alcohol without being aware that using these drugs together is hazardous.

Even if someone is aware that mixing drugs is dangerous, they may do so anyway. Many people will mix alcohol with other drugs with adverse effects. A mixture of heroin (a depressant) and cocaine (a stimulant), for example, increases the risk of death from respiratory depression. People who use illegal drugs may mix drugs because they do not know what they are taking.

Many drugs taken together have the potential to interact with one another to produce greater effects than either drug taken by itself. When two depressant drugs are taken -- alcohol, opioid analgesics (like codeine), barbituates (like Secondal) and benzodiazepines (like Valium) – the result may be confusion, injuries from falls, depressed breathing, coma, and death.

 

Fast Facts

  • Cocaine is one of the most addicting street drugs out there. Lab rats will self-administer cocaine until death.[49]

  • More teens die from prescription drugs than heroin/cocaine combined. [50]

  • Between 1.4 - 4.9% of youth have used prescription stimulants in the past year in Canada. Of those, up to 40% says they abused them.[51]

  • Drug abuse is a leading cause of premature deaths. The Government of Saskatchewan’s Department of Health found that young people who use illegal drugs are 11 times more likely to commit suicide or overdose.[52]

  • Hallucinogens are almost exclusively used by teen and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. 3.9% of youth say they used, compared to only 0.4% of adult.[53]

  • If you think it is safe to buy drugs on the street, consider this: Even prescription drugs that appear to be sealed in original packaging can be knock-off home-made products. Many dealers are motivated to substitute potentially toxic ingredients in place of drugs to save money. It is not uncommon to find bleach, cleansers, toxins or other materials in illegal drugs. [54]

  • If you think it is safe to buy drugs over the internet, consider this: you could be dealing with anyone from an international black market broker to a neighbour. Drugs that are bought online may be counterfeit, homemade or stolen, and are often illegal. Despite the increasing popularity and convenience, illegally buying drugs, whether online or on the street, can have dangerous consequences. [55]

 

  1. Geoff McKee, MD, Ashraf Amlani, MPH, Jane A. Buxton, MBBS, MHSc, FRCPC. Illicit fentanyl: An emerging threat to people who use drugs in BC. BCMJ, Vol. 57, No. 6, July, August, 2015, page(s) 235 — BC Centre for Disease Control.

  2. Egred, M. Cocaine And The Heart. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2005, 81, 568-571.

  3. Walters, C.; Kuo, Y.; Blendy, J. Differential Distribution Of CREB In The Mesolimbic Dopamine Reward Pathway. Journal of Neurochemistry 2003, 87, 1237-1244.

  4. Nestler, E. Historical Review: Molecular And Cellular Mechanisms Of Opiate And Cocaine Addiction. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 2004, 25, 210-218.

  5. Carlezon Jr., W. Regulation Of Cocaine Reward By CREB. Science 1998, 282, 2272-2275.

  6. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  7. Breiter, H.; Gollub, R.; Weisskoff, R.; Kennedy, D.; Makris, N.; Berke, J.; Goodman, J.; Kantor, H.; Gastfriend, D.; Riorden, J. et al. Acute Effects Of Cocaine On Human Brain Activity And Emotion. Neuron 1997, 19, 591-611.

  8. Kloner, R.; Hale, S.; Alker, K.; Rezkalla, S. The Effects Of Acute And Chronic Cocaine Use On The Heart. Circulation 1992, 85, 407-419.

  9. Egred, M. Cocaine And The Heart. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2005, 81, 568-571.

  10. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  11. Davis, Kathleen. "Methamphetamine: Side Effects, Health Risks and Withdrawal." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, Web.

  12. Smith, M.; Farah, M. Are Prescription Stimulants “Smart Pills”? The Epidemiology And Cognitive Neuroscience Of Prescription Stimulant Use By Normal Healthy Individuals. Psychological Bulletin 2011, 137, 717-741.

  13. Teter, C.; McCabe, S.; LaGrange, K.; Cranford, J.; Boyd, C. Illicit Use Of Specific Prescription Stimulants Among College Students: Prevalence, Motives, And Routes Of Administration. Pharmacotherapy 2006, 26, 1501-1510.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Lakhan, S.; Kirchgessner, A. Prescription Stimulants In Individuals With And Without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Misuse, Cognitive Impact, And Adverse Effects. Brain Behav 2012, 2, 661-677.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Klein-Schwartz, W. Abuse And Toxicity Of Methylphenidate. Current Opinion in Pediatrics 2002, 14, 219-223.

  18. Muijsers, R.; Wagstaff, A. Transdermal Fentanyl. Drugs 2001, 61, 2289-2307.

  19. Gatehouse, Jonathon, and Macdonald, Nancy. “Fentanyl: The King of All Opiates, and a Killer Drug Crisis,” Macleans.ca. 21 Sept. 2015. Web.

  20. Gutstein H, Akil H. Opioid Analgesics. In: Goodman & Gilman’s the Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. 11th ed. McGraw-Hill; 2006.

  21. Ibid.

  22. "RCMP Releases Video on the Dangers of Fentanyl." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 13 Sept. 2016. Web.

  23. "Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse." Narconon International. Web.

  24. Gatehouse, Jonathon, and Macdonald, Nancy. “Fentanyl: The King of All Opiates, and a Killer Drug Crisis,” Macleans.ca. 21 Sept. 2015. Web.

  25. "Increases in Fentanyl Drug Confiscations and Fentanyl-related Overdose Fatalities." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Oct. 2015. Web.

  26. Stewart, Eric. "RCMP Gazette." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 24 June 2016. Web.

  27. Hill, S.; Thomas, S. Clinical Toxicology Of Newer Recreational Drugs. Clinical Toxicology 2011, 49, 705-719.

  28. Freese, T.; Miotto, K.; Reback, C. The Effects And Consequences Of Selected Club Drugs. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 2002, 23, 151-156.

  29. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  30. Hudson, A.; Lalies, M.; Baker, G.; Wells, K.; Aitchison, K. Ecstasy, Legal Highs And Designer Drug Use: A Canadian Perspective. Drug Science, Policy and Law 2013, 1.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. 

  33. Montoya, A.; Sorrentino, R.; Lukas, S.; Price, B. Long-Term Neuropsychiatric Consequences Of "Ecstasy" (MDMA): A Review. Harv Rev Psychiatry 2002, 10, 212-220.

  34. Ibid.

  35. Teter, C.; Guthrie, S. A Comprehensive Review Of MDMA And GHB: Two Common Club Drugs. Pharmacotherapy 2001, 21, 1486-1513.

  36. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  37. Baylen, C.; Rosenberg, H. A Review Of The Acute Subjective Effects Of MDMA/Ecstasy. Addiction 2006, 101, 933-947.

  38. Montoya, A.; Sorrentino, R.; Lukas, S.; Price, B. Long-Term Neuropsychiatric Consequences Of "Ecstasy" (MDMA): A Review. Harv Rev Psychiatry 2002, 10, 212-220.

  39. Nichols, D. Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2004, 101, 131-181.

  40. Passie, T.; Seifert, J.; Schneider, U.; Emrich, H. The Pharmacology Of Psilocybin. Addiction Biology 2002, 7, 357-364.

  41. Cunningham, N. Hallucinogenic Plants Of Abuse. Emerg Med Australas 2008, 20, 167-174.

  42. (146) Passie, T.; Seifert, J.; Schneider, U.; Emrich, H. The Pharmacology Of Psilocybin. Addiction Biology 2002, 7, 357-364.

  43. Cunningham, N. Hallucinogenic Plants Of Abuse. Emerg Med Australas 2008, 20, 167-174.

  44. Passie, T.; Halpern, J.; Stichtenoth, D.; Emrich, H.; Hintzen, A. The Pharmacology Of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics 2008, 14, 295-314.

  45. Nichols, D. Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2004, 101, 131-181.

  46. Abraham, H. The Psychopharmacology Of Hallucinogens. Neuropsychopharmacology 1996, 14, 285-298

  47. Passie, T.; Seifert, J.; Schneider, U.; Emrich, H. The Pharmacology Of Psilocybin. Addiction Biology 2002, 7, 357-364.

  48. Haroz, R.; Greenberg, M. New Drugs Of Abuse In North America. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine 2006, 26, 147-164.

  49.  Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  50. “The Truth About Prescription Drug Abuse." Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Web.

  51.  Health Canada,. Canadian Alcohol And Drug Use Monitoring Survey: Summary Of Results For 2012; 2014.

  52. "Teen Drug Abuse Facts & Their Implications." Canadian Centre for Addictions. 19 Aug. 2016. Web.

  53.  Health Canada,. Canadian Alcohol And Drug Use Monitoring Survey: Summary Of Results For 2012; 2014.

  54.  "The Dangers of Buying Street Drugs." Drug Addiction Help. 13 June 2011. Web.

  55. "Dangers of Getting Drugs from a Dealer." Drug Rehab Experts. Web.

Alcohol - Just a simple drug?

Alcohol is the oldest known and most widely used psychoactive drug in the world…and yes, it is a drug. And despite all the talk in the media about marijuana and other drugs, alcohol is still, by far, the “drug of choice” for people of all ages.  

There is no question that alcohol is totally socially acceptable in our society, with a large percentage of the population enjoying an alcoholic beverage on a regular basis. But at the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that each year alcohol ruins millions of lives, causes an untold number of deaths, and results in billions of dollars in health care expenditures.

If you are going out to party and plan to do some drinking, one thing to keep in mind is that alcohol reduces your inhibitions, so socially unacceptable behaviours such as aggression are more likely to occur. After just a few drinks you are more likely to place yourselves in risky situations.[1]

 

Do you know your BAC’s?

BAC or “Blood Alcohol Concentration” refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood. In Canada, the BAC is usually expressed as the number of milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood. Our Criminal Code BAC limit is .08%. [2] This is the level at which Criminal Code impaired driving charges can be laid. It is important to realize, though, that even small amounts of alcohol can impair driving ability.

That is why just about every province and territory in Canada has administrative laws for drivers whose BACs are .05% and over. Drivers at these levels do not face criminal impaired driving charges, but they are subject to licence suspensions ranging from 24 hours to 7 days depending on the province or territory. [3]

The more you drink, the higher your BAC. The higher your BAC, the more physically and mentally impaired you become. The more impaired you are, the higher the risk of an accident.

When you have a drink, the alcohol is absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine. The more your drink, the more alcohol will be absorbed, and your BAC will continue to rise. Within 30 – 90 minutes, the alcohol is distributed evenly throughout your body. Once the alcohol has entered your bloodstream, it doesn’t simply pass through you. It must be broken down (oxidized) and eliminated. 

It takes about 90 minutes for your body to absorb and eliminate one standard drink. The exact time depends on factors such as: [4]

  • how much you weigh

  • whether you are male or female

  • the strength of your drinks

  • how old you are

  • your drinking history

  • your genetics or biological makeup

A number of factors, such as body weight and fat/muscle ratio, influence how fast the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream. Generally, it takes less alcohol for a woman to reach the legal limit than it does for a man.

These charts allow you to estimate your BAC after consuming a certain number of drinks in a given period of time. They are based on ideal conditions (i.e. ideal body weight) and are intended to provide an indication of how the number of drinks you consume translate into BAC. Remember, there is no safe limit for drinking before driving or operating equipment.

 

A closer look… binge drinking

We’ve all heard about it, but what is binge drinking? According to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, it’s:

  • 5 drinks on one occasion for guys

  • 4 drinks on one occasion for females

While it may seem like a fun idea at the time, drinking to get wasted can come with a whole host of consequences. A lot of the harmful things people experience when they drink happen when they have five or more standard drinks on one occasion. When you’re drunk, you are more likely to:

  • be in car crash, causing injury or death [5]

  • sexually assault someone [6]

  • get into a fight [7]

  • have unsafe sex [8]

  • forget the night and blackout [9]

  • get alcohol poisoning, and end up spending the night at the toilet or in the hospital [10]

Alcohol poisoning is the most life-threatening consequence of binge drinking. When someone drinks too much and gets alcohol poisoning, it affects the body's involuntary reflexes — including breathing and the gag reflex. If the gag reflex isn't working properly, a person can choke to death on his or her vomit.[11]

If you are at a party and someone appears to be choking on their own vomit, put them into a recovery position:

  • Raise the person’s arm above their head.

  • Roll them on their side towards you.

  • Tilt their head to make sure their airway is open.

  • Tuck the nearest hand under their cheek to maintain the position of the head.

  • Keep an eye on them, look for signs of alcohol poisoning and call for help.

No one wants their night ruined. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recommends that guys stick to a maximum 4 drinks and girls to 3 on special occasions. Click here to read more. Or, check out this site to learn more about healthy drinking.

 

Mixing alcohol with other drugs

lcohol & Marijuana: This combo is common. But even so, it can have some unpredictable side effects including nausea, dizziness, vomiting, panic, anxiety, and paranoia. When recreational drinking and smoking marijuana are combined, it is easier to drink excessively and risk alcohol poisoning, which can kill you.[12] And driving? Forget it. When these two substances are combined you become even more impaired than you would on just one drug alone. [13]

lcohol & Prescription Drugs: Let’s take a look at pain-killers first… oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, and all the ones you hear about on the news. These opioids, which are synthetic creations of opiates, slow down your breathing. Alcohol is also a downer, making the body even slower. Fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol.[14]

ou may have heard of stimulant drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, and other ADHD meds. Alcohol and uppers can make you dizzy and you could have trouble concentrating. More seriously, heart problems and liver damage can occur.[15]

ou never know what you’re getting with illicit prescription drugs. Other contaminants may be mixed in, which can cause some serious problems. If you are going to use, don’t use alone and start with a small amount. Be able to recognize opioid overdose by signs of very small pupils, slow breathing, and trouble staying awake. Call 911 immediately if you think someone has overdosed. Check out this chart of opioid overdose signs.

lcohol & MDMA: A lot of people take “Molly” at dance parties and music festivals since it increases energy, but “M” makes your body heat up and we all know dancing makes you sweat. A LOT.[16] Plus, alcohol makes you go to the bathroom more, making you lose even more liquid. With these two in your system, you could be looking at some severe dehydration which can make you pass out, get heatstroke, or cause you to be hospitalized from dehydration. If you’re going out, pace yourself, drink water in between alcoholic drinks, and take breaks in order to cool off.[17]

lcohol & Cocaine: Combining vodka and coke increase the effects of either substance. Once in your system, this combo causes the production of a toxic substance called cocaethylene. It increases risk of heart attack and death and you may become more aggressive or violent. [18]

 

Fast Facts

  • Alcohol is a downer or depressant, meaning it slows our bodies down.[19]  While one drink may “loosen” you up, drinking more makes you drowsy and muddles your memory.[20]

  • Alcohol + opioids = possible overdose and death because you’re breathing is so slow.[21]

  • In Canada, the highest rate of impaired-driving deaths occurs at age 19.[22]

  • A driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10% is 50 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a driver with no blood alcohol.[23]

 

 

  1. Fact Sheet: Drinking and Alcohol, drinkingfacts.ca. Canadian Public Health Association, 2006. Web

  2. Perreault, Samuel. "Impaired Driving in Canada, 2011." Statistics Canada: Canada's National Statistical Agency / Statistique Canada : Organisme Statistique National Du Canada. 30 Nov. 2015.

  3. "Overview - Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)." MADD Canada - Impaired Driving. Web.

  4. Fact Sheet: Drinking and Alcohol, drinkingfacts.ca. Canadian Public Health Association, 2006. Web.

  5. Chamberlain, E.; Solomon, R. Zero Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits For Drivers Under 21: Lessons From Canada. Injury Prevention 2008, 14, 123-128.

  6. Abbey, A. Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem Among College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement 2002, 118-128.

  7. Anderson, P.; Chisholm, D.; Fuhr, D. Effectiveness And Cost-Effectiveness Of Policies And Programmes To Reduce The Harm Caused By Alcohol. The Lancet 2009, 373, 2234-2246.

  8. Ibid

  9. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much; 2015.

  10. World Health Organization,. Alcohol: Global Status Report On Alcohol And Health 2014; Geneva, 2014.

  11. "Binge Drinking." KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation.

  12. Scharff, Constance. "The Dangers of Combining Alcohol and Marijuana." Psychology Today. 6 May 2014. Web.

  13. Hartman, R.; Brown, T.; Milavetz, G.; Spurgin, A.; Pierce, R.; Gorelick, D.; Gaffney, G.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Lateral Control With And Without Alcohol. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2015.

  14. Muijsers, R.; Wagstaff, A. Transdermal Fentanyl. Drugs 2001, 61, 2289-2307.

  15. Tavernise, Sabrina. "New Sign of Stimulants’ Toll on Young." The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Aug. 2013. Web.

  16. Baylen, C.; Rosenberg, H. A Review Of The Acute Subjective Effects Of MDMA/Ecstasy. Addiction 2006, 101, 933-947.

  17. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26.

  18. Pennings, E.J., Leccese, A.P. & Wolff, F.A. (2002). Effects of concurrent use of alcohol and cocaine. Addiction,97(7), 773-783.

  19. Valenzuela, C. F. (1997). Alcohol and neurotransmitter interactions. Alcohol health and research world, 21, 144-148.

  20. Ibid.

  21. White, J.; Irvine, R. Mechanisms Of Fatal Opioid Overdose. Addiction 1999, 94, 961-972.

  22. Fact Sheet: Drinking and Alcohol, drinkingfacts.ca. Canadian Public Health Association, 2006. Web.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Fact Sheets - Caffeine and Alcohol." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Nov. 2015. Web.

Marijuana 101 for Parents

In Canada, our federal government is proceeding with legislation to legalize marijuana. This would involve implementing a system that allows for the use and sale of marijuana to adults under a system of regulation, probably similar to the way alcohol is sold. At this time, we do not know exactly what this will look like.

As parents, it is incumbent upon us to become as knowledgeable as possible about marijuana so we can offer our children informed opinions and guidelines. We can well anticipate that use among our youth will increase. We just have to look at cigarettes and alcohol. It is not difficult for kids to obtain either of these, most often getting it from their own home. The easier it is to obtain, the more kids will use it believing it is not harmful. And the more they use, the more likely it is they will end up in difficulty with substance abuse, and for some addiction.

 

Not Your “Woodstock Weed”

An increasing percentage of the population believes that we should legalize marijuana and that doing so would be no different than having alcohol and cigarettes legal. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that today’s marijuana is much more potent than it was just two decades ago, and in fact is a totally different drug from the “Woodstock weed” that baby boomers experienced during the 1960s and 1970s. Parents should be aware that marijuana is 5-20 times stronger than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. [1]

In the last couple of decades, the level of psychoactive substance Tetrahydrocannabinal (THC) has been manipulated by growers to intensify the “high”.  If we were talking about alcohol, this increase in intoxication potential would be like going from drinking a “lite” beer a day to consuming a dozen shots of vodka. 

Marijuana contains almost 500 compounds, 70 of which are cannabinoids. THC has the strongest psychoactive effective, and is often used to measure potency.[2] With profit maximization as their goal, it is not surprising that growers have made their product as strong as possible.

t should be noted that as the growers purposely raised the level of THC, they unknowingly lowered the level of CBD, which is the component in marijuana that appears to have the “medicinal” properties some people seek. It is also what helped temper the negative effects caused by the THC. So, while the THC (and related problems) increased, the CBD (which countered the negative problems) decreased.

espite this, proponents of legalization continue to claim it is a relatively benign drug. And, for the majority of users, smoking marijuana occasionally in the mellow company of friends does not cause any major problems. However, a minority of users will experience significant negative health ramifications, including significant loss in IQ, and poor learning outcomes, lung damage, mental illness, motor skills impairment, and addiction.

 

Facts to Ponder

  • Canadian youth have the highest rate of marijuana use in the developed world, and marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug among Canadians aged 15 to 24 years.[3]

  • Marijuana is an addictive drug. One in 10 people who try marijuana will become addicted to it. One in six youth who try marijuana will become addicted.[4]

  • Marijuana use directly affects the brain, specifically parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, and reaction time. These effects can last up to 28 days after abstinence from the drug.[5]

  • Marijuana acutely affects young people before age 25. Developing brains are especially susceptible to negative effects of marijuana and other drug use.[6]

  • Marijuana use is significantly linked with mental illness, especially schizophrenia and psychosis, but also depression and anxiety.[7]

  • Marijuana smoke acts as an irritant to the lungs, resulting in greater prevalence of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm production.[8] It contains 50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.[9]

  • Persistent, heavy use of marijuana by adolescents reduces IQ by as much as eight points, when tested well into adulthood.[10]

  • Controlling for other possible explanations, marijuana use is linked with dropping out of school, and subsequent unemployment, social welfare dependence, and a lower self-reported quality of life than that of non-users of marijuana. [11]

  • Both immediate exposure and long-term exposure to marijuana impair driving ability; marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently reported in connection with impaired driving and accidents, including fatal accidents.[12]

  • According to the National Fatality Database, cannabis was the most common illicit drug present in fatally injured drivers from ages 15-24 in Canada between 2000 and 2010. [13]

 

Big Marijuana — Lessons from Big Tobacco

Before the 1900’s, tobacco was not nearly as lethal or addictive as it is today. The tobacco industry created new blends and used new curing techniques that allowed for deeper inhalation and increased delivery of nicotine to the brain. The public health effort towards tobacco came at a huge price… 50 years, millions of lives, and billions of dollars. Tobacco use costs our country at least $17 billion annually — which is about three times the amount of money our provincial and federal governments collect from today’s taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The marijuana industry has utilized techniques such as selective breeding to increase THC content while supporting the production of vapourizers that allow for deeper inhalation. The industry promotes health benefits of marijuana while also trying to appeal to certain groups, such as children, through cartoon characters and edibles. [14]

 

Keeping it honest with your kids

Parents can play an important role in influencing their child’s attitudes and behaviours when it comes to marijuana. The subject of marijuana use has become increasingly difficult to talk about, in part because of the conflicting information that is out there. Unfortunately, because of all the talk of marijuana having medicinal qualities and the arguments for legalization, a number of teens today do not perceive marijuana to be harmful. We know from research that as perceived risk declines, use increases.

If you are aware your teen is smoking and he or she argues with you that it is just a “natural product” and claims that it is not doing any harm, it may be worth trying to motivate them in positive ways and to get them to think about consequences. You might ask them about their goals for school and beyond, and get them to talk about how their use of marijuana might impact those goals. Keep the conversation positive and get them thinking about what is possible and how they might best focus on achieving success in the future.

Teens will often claim that they smoke marijuana because it helps them deal with their anxiety. This may well be the case for the short-term, but research reflects that long-term marijuana use makes anxiety worse. A large drug use survey of men born between 1944-1954, found that individuals who use marijuana to cope with problems are more depressed than those who do not use marijuana to cope with problems.[15]

Another consideration for parents is the fact that teens are using marijuana to mask feelings of anxiety rather than dealing with the source of those feelings. It is important that parents encourage teens to get the help they need to learn coping skills for stress and anxiety.

f you are someone who comes home from work and has a drink to relax, be prepared to have your teen question why you do this and if you are being hypocritical by questioning their use of marijuana to unwind.

uite likely your teen may well ask about your use of marijuana in the past. If they ask, then honesty is always the best policy. But the key point to make is that the strength of what you might have smoked in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or even the 90’s isn’t comparable to what is available today. As discussed, it is apples and oranges.

onsistently, connections are found between cannabis use and other drug use. These include that cannabis use precedes other illicit drug use, and that the earlier cannabis is used and the more regularly, the more likely a person is to use other illicit drugs. It’s important to note that most cannabis users do not go on to use other drugs and that experimental users are not at a great risk for other illicit drug use (only those who initiate early and use regularly).[17]

Medical marijuana users often start as recreational users. Frequently the patient rather than the doctor determines the correct dose when prescribing medical marijuana. Those who have past recreational use are more likely to choose botanical marijuana.[18]

 
  1. Mehmedic, Z., et al. (2010). Potency Trends of D9-THC and Other Cannabinoids in Confiscated Cannabis Preparations from 1993 to 2008. The Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55(5).

  2. McLaren, J.; Swift, W.; Dillon, P.; Allsop, S. Cannabis Potency and Contamination: A Review of The Literature. Addiction 2008, 103, 1100-1109.

  3. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. “Adolescent Marijuana Use and Its Impact on the Developing Brain.” News Release June 17, 2015.

  4. Wagner, F.A. & Anthony, J.C. (2002). From first drug use to drug dependence; developmental periods of risk for dependence upon cannabis, cocaine, and alcohol. Neuropsychopharmacology 26: 479-488. 

  5. Hall ,W. &Degenhard, L. (2009). Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use.Lancet, 374:1383-1391

  6. Giedd. J. N. (2004). Structural magnetic resonance imaging of the adolescent brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1021, 77-85.

  7. Hall, W. (2009). The adverse health effects of cannabis use: What are they, and what are their implications for policy? International Journal of Drug Policy, 20, 458-466.

  8. Tetrault, J.M., et al. Effects of cannabis smoking on pulmonary function and respiratory complications: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med 167, 221-228 (2007).

  9. Hoffman, D.; Brunnemann, K.D.; Gori, G.B.; and Wynder, E.E.L.On the carcinogenicity of marijuana smoke. In: V.C. Runeckles, ed., Recent Advances in Phytochemistry. New York: Plenum, 1975.

  10. Meier et al. (2012). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206820109 PNAS August 27, 2012

  11. Fergusson, D. M. and Boden, J. M. (2008), Cannabis use and later life outcomes. Addiction, 103: 969–976.

  12. Brady JE, Li G. Trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the United States, 1999-010.Am J Epidemiol 2014;179:692-9.36.

  13. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,. Young Brains On Cannabis: It’s Time To Clear The Smoke; Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics: Ottawa, 2015.

  14. Richter, K.; Levy, S. Big Marijuana — Lessons From Big Tobacco. New England Journal of Medicine 2014, 371, 399-401.

  15. Green, B.; Ritter, C. Marijuana Use And Depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2000, 41, 40.

  16. The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update." From the American Academy of Pediatrics | Pediatrics. Web

  17. Hall, W.; Lynskey, M. Is Cannabis A Gateway Drug? Testing Hypotheses About The Relationship Between Cannabis Use And The Use Of Other Illicit Drugs. Drug and Alcohol Review 2005, 24, 39-48.

  18. Bostwick, J. Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2012, 87, 172-186.

The Power of Parents

No matter where you live these days, drugs (including alcohol) are not hard for young people to get access to. There is no question that your child will have the opportunity, should he or she choose, to use drugs. Both the opportunities and the subtle pressure to do so will increase as your child moves into higher grades. It is not easy for parents to know whether to be concerned, what kind of guidance to give their child, or how to communicate their concerns.

The fact is, kids today know more and are exposed to a greater variety of drugs that are stronger, cheaper, and easier to find than ever before. That’s why it is critical for parents to become as knowledgeable as possible. By educating yourself about the availability and dangers of drug use in your neighbourhood, you can help prevent your child from using drugs in the first place. 

It may surprise you to know that in survey after survey, kids report that their parents are the single most important influence when it comes to drugs. Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don't.[1] Research over the years is clear: your influence is the most powerful and enduring in your child’s decision-making process.

 

Protective Factors

There are few guarantees when it comes to parenting. However, there are things parents can do to reduce the chances that their children will have problems with substances. Perhaps more importantly, there are many things parents can do to strengthen and increase their children’s likelihood of being able to cope with life’s challenges and to grow into happy, well-balanced adults. Research suggests children are less likely to get into problems as teens if they develop:

  • Self-restraint

  • A strong social support group

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Motivation to succeed

 

Fortunately, research has identified factors that tend to strengthen children’s resiliency to problematic behaviours. These are sometimes called protective factors. Parents can help build protective factors in children by practicing:

  • Clear and consistent boundaries and expectations

  • Closeness as a family

  • Good lines of communication

  • A peaceful home environment

  • Love and support towards children

  • Involvement and interest in activities such as arts, sports, and school performances

  • Relationships with other positive adult role models

  • Involvement in service to others

It is not a matter of being perfect or a “super parent.” It is useful to remember that no one on earth loves your child more than you do. You are probably the single strongest protective factor your child has. And it is not a matter of doing big things, as things that seem small or simple can build on the strengths of your child.

 

When do I start talking to my child about drugs?

Many parents wonder about when they should start discussing the dangers of drugs with their children. It is never too early to begin talking to your children about drugs. Even at a very early age you can talk about the need to be careful when it comes to taking over-the-counter and prescription medications. Take advantage of teachable moments; for example, if you see someone smoking on TV, talk about the harm it can cause.

Talking to your children about drugs should not be isolated to a single conversation. It should be a continuous conversation, communicated in an age appropriate way. Conversations with your child should reflect where you stand and what you expect, what the risks of using drugs are, and, how to respond when given an opportunity to try drugs. Here are some suggestions for when you talk to your child about drugs:

Setting the stage: Setting the stage for those times when you and your child discuss serious matters is not done all at once. Hopefully, over the years, you and your child have developed a close relationship and he or she feels comfortable talking with you, knows you well, and even expects you to talk with him or her on many matters. Your child hopefully knows of your love, concern, and belief.

Timing: The best situation in which to discuss drugs with your child is at a ‘teachable moment’: discussions may be triggered by something that happened at school, or something your child or you heard in the news. Like anything, there needs to be a readiness on the part of your child. This is usually when he or she is thinking about it or has some concerns, or is at a point where he or she is likely to be exposed to drugs in social settings. You do not have to be serious and formal. In many cases, communication is already happening naturally and throughout a variety of contexts.

Ways to open the discussion: Sometimes it is hard to know when to start the conversation – that’s why having context is important. Here are a few examples of context:

  • Current events: Maybe you have read the papers or seen in the media how many serious and costly problems are caused by drugs.

  • Ask questions: What do you and your friends think of all the gang violence we hear about in cities? What are the drugs involved? Why do some people want to use drugs?

  • Talk about their social group: Ask if they know if any kids at their school are drinking, smoking or doing drugs. What type? How do they and their friends feel about that? 

  • Share information: Discuss “did you know” information using current research about drugs found on this website.

  • Note: It is less important to talk about the details of any of these drugs than it is to share concerns as a parent about the many ways they can hurt people.

 

Ways to respond in a discussion: Your job is to provide guidance and direction. Trust your parental instinct to protect your child, especially when that instinct tells you not all choices are right, and that your child needs to make wise choices. You are not just a facilitator, as a parent you can also:

  • Express your trust and respect for your child.

  • Indicate that you know that using substances is common among some youth, but not for all youth.

  • Explain your concerns from an educated stance.

  • Use active listening skills to ensure your child is being heard as well.+

Talk about the right thing:

  • A small child does not need a pharmacology lesson, but they should know about things to avoid and things to talk with parents if and when they come up.

  • Talk to your child about your expectations for behaviour, and your support for dealing with situations that will begin happening soon.

  • Middle or older teens need clear direction on what parents expect, clear support for healthy choices, reinforcement of responsible behaviour, and lots of ways out of, and reasons not to be in situations involving greater temptation than they can handle.

  • Children of any age need security, safety, a sense of importance, affection, clear and reasonable expectations, and to be comfortable in the knowledge that they are loved unconditionally.

 

Keeping your kids drug free

If you know your child is being exposed to drugs at school and other social situations, here are some suggestions to help keep them drug free:

  • Open, two-way conversations can reinforce your child’s awareness of your family values and make the idea of drugs less appealing.

  • Practice roleplays in which your child can refuse to go along with friends without becoming a social outcast.

  • Get to know your child’s friends and invite them into your home to provide a welcoming, safe space.

  • If your teen wants to hang out at a friend’s house, get to know that friend’s parents and their rules.

  • Encourage and support your child to participate in healthy, positive activities.

  • Steer your teen away from any friends who use drugs.

  • Make sure parties they plan to attend will be drug-free and supervised by adults.

  • Set curfews and enforce them with reasonable consequences that you have discussed beforehand.

  • Sit down for dinner at least once a week and use the time to talk.

  • Let them know why you don’t want them to use drugs, and establish a clear family position on substances.

  • Be a good role model. Don’t reach for a beer the minute you come home after a tough day – it sends the message that drinking is the best way to unwind.

  • Encourage and support your child to grow their self-efficacy through sincere compliments.

If you suspect your child is experimenting with drugs, here are some thoughts for handling the situation:

  • Stay calm – do not threaten, yell, blame or use other verbal or body language tools to get the upper hand.

  • Do not get trapped in self-blame, as this is unhelpful to all.

  • Think before you speak. Take the time to think it through, talk with your spouse/partner/friend/family member/support if there is one, so you can be together on the issue.

  • Do not blow things out of proportion, but also do not underestimate the importance of talking about things to work toward solutions.

  • Avoid accusations. Ask and listen. Let your child finish talking before jumping in.

  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Acknowledge and validate the pressures and confused feelings that he or she may be experiencing.

  • Express your trust and confidence in his or her ability to act responsibly.

  • Do not be quick to respond and do not brush aside concerns or offer quick answers or judgments. Remember: at the end of the day no one on earth loves your child more than you do.

  • Be very clear in giving your expectations and the fact that everything you counsel him or her to do is out of love and concern for his or her well-being.

  • Let your child offer some concrete suggestions for ways he or she can respond the next time someone suggests using substances or going somewhere where substances or being used. Let him or her practice ways to get away from situations while saving face.

  • Take time to talk about “what a friend is.” This includes the idea that a friend: likes you as you are; wants you to be safe and happy; wants you to have his or her interests at heart – to “watch his or her back”; would not do something intentionally to hurt you; would not want you to do something that hurt you or got you into trouble.

 

Resources for Parents

Kids and Drugs – A Parent’s Guide to Prevention is a booklet filled with valuable information for parents. It was developed by the RCMP and Alberta Health Services.

The “Parent Talk Kit” developed by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids gives tips on what to say to your child from pre-school through to young adults when it comes to discussing a variety of scenarios related to drug use and abuse.

The Partnership for Drug Free Kids website provides tips and advice on what to say about drug prevention and drug abuse for young children through young adults.

The Interior Chemical Dependency Office website provides a wealth of information and a link for a short quiz to determine if you are enabling your loved one.

A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Underage Marijuana Use, developed by Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Social Development Research Group, was published following the legalization of marijuana for adults in Washington State.

GROWING UP DRUG FREE: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention, is a 64-page booklet produced by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Education in 2012.

Drug Free Kids Canada website has lots of information about drugs, how to protect your family and how to get help.

Check out the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for Youth (LRADG) developed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, if you have a teenager who is going to parties where alcohol is available.

Make a Difference, Talk to Your Child About Alcohol, from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is geared to parents and caregivers of youth 10 to 14.

 

Things to Ponder:

  • 73 percent of teens report that the number one reason for using drugs is to cope with school pressure, yet only 7 percent of parents believe teens might use drugs to deal with stress. [2]

  • Families who spend more time together and foster good feelings such as support and praise are less likely to have children who have issues with drug use.[3] Even if you don’t talk directly about drugs, being there is just as important. Going to their sports events, eating dinner together, and going on day trips together are all activities that will bring you and your teen closer together.

  • It is so easy today with all the stresses and business of life, to just come home and close the door and shut out the world. However, it is important to interact with the world, especially with your child’s friend’s parents. Think of the power of community if all parents knew each other and were in communication. You don’t have to be buddies, just get to know them.

  • Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules. Kids who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs.[4]

  • Don't just leave your child's anti-drug education up to his or her school. Ask your teen what she's learned about drugs in school and then continue with that topic or introduce new topics.

No matter where you live these days, drugs (including alcohol) are not hard for young people to get access to. There is no question that your child will have the opportunity, should he or she choose, to use drugs. Both the opportunities and the subtle pressure to do so will increase as your child moves into higher grades. It is not easy for parents to know whether to be concerned, what kind of guidance to give their child, or how to communicate their concerns.

The fact is, kids today know more and are exposed to a greater variety of drugs that are stronger, cheaper, and easier to find than ever before. That’s why it is critical for parents to become as knowledgeable as possible. By educating yourself about the availability and dangers of drug use in your neighbourhood, you can help prevent your child from using drugs in the first place. 

It may surprise you to know that in survey after survey, kids report that their parents are the single most important influence when it comes to drugs. Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don't.[1] Research over the years is clear: your influence is the most powerful and enduring in your child’s decision-making process.

  1. 2011 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, Teens and Parents. April 6, 2011. The Partnership at Drug Free Org. Web.

  2. National Research News Release. Partnership for Drug Free Kids. August 4, 2008

  3. Hawkins, J.; Catalano, R.; Miller, J. Risk And Protective Factors For Alcohol And Other Drug Problems In Adolescence And Early Adulthood: Implications For Substance Abuse Prevention. Psychological Bulletin 1992, 112, 64-105.

  4. Parent Tool Kit, How to Prevent Drug Use at Every Age, Partnership for Drug Free Kids. Web.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • Blyth, D., & Roehlkepartain, E. (1993). Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth: How Communities Contribute to Positive Youth Development. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

  • Cleveland, M.; Feinberg, M.; Bontempo, D.; Greenberg, M. The Role of Risk and Protective Factors In Substance Use Across Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health 2008, 43, 157-164.

  • Hawkins, J.; Catalano, R.; Miller, J. Risk and Protective Factors For Alcohol and Other Drug Problems In Adolescence and Early Adulthood: Implications For Substance Abuse Prevention. Psychological Bulletin 1992, 112, 64-105.

  • Inaba, Darryl and William E. Cohen. Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. Ashland, Or.: CNS Publications, 2000. 251-252

  • Mangham, C. (2003). Promoting Mental Health and Resilience in British Columbia: Discussion Paper and Annotated Bibliography. Vancouver: Prevention Source BC.

  • McColl, Pamela. On Marijuana, A powerful examinations of what marijuana use means for our children, our communities, and our future. Grafton and Scratch Publisher, 2015.

  • Raphael, B. (1993). Adolescent resilience: the potential impact of personal development in schools. J Paediatr Child Health .

  • Sabet, Kevin A. Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana. New York, NY: Beaufort, 2013.

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016

  • Vakalahi, H. (2001). Adolescent substance use and family-based risk and protective factors: a literature review. Journal of Drug Education , 31 (1), 29-46

What Parents Need to Know About Drugs

Adolescence is the critical period for starting to smoke, drink, or use other drugs. This is also a critical time to reinforce the importance of educating your teen about making healthy choices. As the teenage brain is still developing, it is much more vulnerable to drugs’ harmful effects. Even relatively low levels of substance use can have disastrous consequences for teens, including accidents, violence, unsafe sexual activity, cardiac and respiratory problems, and even death.

During their high school years, most teens will have the opportunity to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana; some will have the opportunity to try harder drugs. The fact is most kids will experiment and most won’t get into trouble. Nevertheless, as a parent you need to be aware of what is out there, what the risks are, and what signs to look for if you suspect a problem. If your child shows signs of a serious problem that could lead to addiction, it is important to know how to get help for them, and for you.

 

Why kids use drugs

Teenagers use drugs for a variety of reasons. Some of these may include:

  • Rebellion against authority

  • Trying to fit in with a group of friends

  • Self-medicating for their anxiety, stress, or depression

  • Curiosity

  • Relief from unpleasant emotions

It is important for parents to be aware that often drug use and mental health problems go together. Teens are at risk of developing an addiction or addictive behaviors if they are exposed to chaos in the home or if parents have mental health or addiction problems.

 

Alcohol – still the drug of choice

Despite what you may have heard or read about illegal drugs in the news, alcohol continues to be the most widely used substance of abuse among youth. Adolescent drinking poses enormous health and safety risks. Here are a few things for parents to ponder:

  • 70% of Canadian youths reported drinking alcohol in 2012. Canadian youth first consume alcohol at an average age of 16 years of age. [1]

  • Individuals who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence compared with those who have their first drink at age 20 or older. [2]

  • Up to 30% of students report consuming five or more drinks on one occasion. [3]

  • Teens who binge drink (have more than 5 drinks one after another) has also been associated with many health problems including: heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver disease, chemical dependency, pregnancy, STDs, and alcohol poisoning.[4]

  • Children who are depressed and/or suffering from serious health conditions are at an even greater risk for binge drinking, and may be using alcohol to control their pain, or to gain social acceptability.[5]

  • A person who holds parties for minors where alcohol is present is liable for any crimes and injuries related to alcohol consumption, and may face criminal charges or be sued.[6]

If you have a teenager who is going to parties where alcohol is available, check out the “Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for Youth” (LRADG) [7] developed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

The guidelines suggest “there is no age at which it is considered “normal” for youth to start drinking, although the legal age to buy alcohol — a law intended to support the idea of postponed drinking — varies from 18 to 19, depending on the province. Often, the earlier an adolescent starts to drink, the more frequently he or she drinks, and the more likely he or she is to develop alcohol dependence or have future problems with alcohol. The LRADG recommends youth delay starting to drink alcohol for as long as possible.” [8]

The report goes on to say that parents “can play a large role in youths’ attitudes towards alcohol by speaking to their children about the effects and risks of drinking, and by ensuring youth are educated so they can make more responsible decisions”. Providing clear expectations about a youth’s drinking and the reasons behind these messages can influence his or her choices. As well, the direction and modelling of moderate alcohol consumption by parents can result in lower rates of alcohol-related problems among children.

“Some parents might choose to introduce their children to alcohol, and research shows that the outcome of this decision depends on the context in which it occurs. For example, parents in some cultures think it acceptable to offer their child a little wine at family dinners on special occasions, and in cultures where this is the practice the rates of alcohol-related problems are sometimes lower. However, problems with alcohol can develop when parents provide alcohol to youth without guidance or supervision. For this reason, if youth should start drinking — and it is recommended that they do not — it would be better for them to drink small amounts of alcohol in the company of their parents, if the parents demonstrate low-risk drinking.”

 

The family medicine cabinet

Our society is used to taking medications to make us feel better. Children see this and can develop the attitude that “pills are okay because they are medicine.” Not surprisingly club drugs like ecstasy are often made to look like pills or capsules, further perpetuating the idea that pills equal feeling better.

Did you know that psychoactive pharmaceuticals (prescription painkillers) are the third most commonly-abused substances, after alcohol and marijuana among Canadian youth? In 2015, over 80,000 Canadian teenagers used prescription drugs to get high.[9] When parents think about their kids experimenting with drugs, they probably aren’t thinking about drugs that may be found in the family medicine cabinet. Here are some facts for parents to ponder when it comes to youth prescription drug abuse:

  • Research shows that teens who abuse prescription drugs say they get them from friends, relatives, or from home. [10]

  • Prescription opioids can be just as dangerous as illegal opioid drugs such as heroin. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are as addictive as some street drugs. [11]

  • The greatest danger with prescription drugs occurs when they are used in combination, particularly with alcohol. [12]

 

Commonly used street drugs and what parents should know

Marijuana is the most common illegal drug used by today’s youth. In Canada, it looks like marijuana will not be illegal for much longer. For those reasons, parents should check our Marijuana 101 for Parents page to learn more about this drug.

When kids buy illegal drugs or prescription drugs illegally, the problem is that they can never be sure of what they are getting. For example, MDMA or ecstasy is often cut with other chemicals, such as caffeine, amphetamine, LSD, PMA, and ketamine. Drugs like “street oxy,” heroin, or cocaine can be cut with fentanyl, so someone could end up ingesting this dangerous substance without even knowing it. [14]

Drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, crystal meth, and heroin are not good for anyone, but are particularly bad for a preteen or teen whose body and brain are still developing. Illegal drugs can damage the brain, heart, and other important organs. [15]

Here are a few illegal drugs that parents should know about:

Fentanyl: Fentanyl has been in the news a lot of late. The problem stems from the fact it is finding its way onto our streets either through the street trade of legitimate prescription patches, through illicitly manufactured fentanyl made into pill form to look like OxyContin, or it is cut into cocaine and heroin to create a more intense high.[16] When dealers cut it into street drugs, users have no idea of the level of purity or the potency of what they take.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Typically, it is used in hospitals as analgesic or for pain management in the form of fentanyl patches.[17] In its prescription form, it is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.  It works in the brain to change how the body feels and responds to pain. Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain's reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Opioid receptors are also found in the areas of the brain that control breathing rate. High doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death.[18] The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. The RCMP estimates a lethal dose of pure fentanyl to be in the realm of two milligrams for a typical adult, which is no more than a few grains of salt.[19]

Oxycodone: This is a narcotic (OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan are the most frequently used and abused) prescribed to relieve pain that is twice as potent as morphine. OxyContin is a time-release version of oxycodone that is snorted or injected. Used as a substitute for heroin, abusers use the drug to relieve pain, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and gain euphoric effects. In 2012 the Canadian government forced the manufacturer of OxyContin to make a “tamper-resistant” version – tough to crush and therefore harder to snort or inject. Police say that virtually every pill stamped as OxyContin (CDN 80) sold on the street today actually contains fentanyl which is very cheap to manufacture and thus lucrative for drug dealers. [20]

Cocaine: There are two forms of cocaine: the white powder which can be snorted, injected, or swallowed and crack cocaine which looks like opaque crystals and makes a popping noise when smoked.[21] Within minutes of snorting, the person’s brain is flooded with dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers and causes feelings of euphoria and stimulation. [22] After the effects have worn off, people find themselves having extreme cravings for that high.[23] This is because cocaine changes the reward pathway of the brain and, over time, more and more is needed to get the same effect. [24] Some people even go on cocaine binges where they take cocaine every 10-30 minutes in order to avoid the negative side effects, such as depressed mood, anxiety and a loss of energy. [25]

Besides potentially causing dependence and addiction, cocaine can have other unwanted effects. Other health effects of cocaine include:

  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure [26]

  • Constriction of blood vessels [27]

  • Chest pain [28]

Those who binge on cocaine can also experience a “crash” in mood and energy: depression, craving, anxiety, and even paranoia.[29]

Methamphetamine: Also known as speed, uppers, meth, crystal meth, chalk, ice, glass, Christmas tree, and crank, this drug can be unpredictable, addictive, and lethal. It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it, the user experiences an intense pleasurable rush that lasts only a few minutes. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria, but not an intense rush.   

People who abuse methamphetamines feel like they don’t need to sleep and are full of energy. But with repeated use methamphetamines are very damaging to the body and brain. Chronic abuse can result in heart problems, progressive social deterioration, and psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions, mood disturbances).[30]

Ecstasy or MDMA: or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine produces energizing effects like the stimulant amphetamine, but also acts as a hallucinogenic similar to mescaline.[31] Made in the lab, ecstasy usually comes in the form of a colourful pill, often with cartoons and icons stamped into them. Nowadays MDMA is rarely ever pure, and sometimes pills don’t contain any MDMA at all. [32] In 2007, Health Canada found only 3% of tablets analyzed contained pure MDMA.[33] It is one of the most popular drugs when it comes to partying, often found at raves, music festivals, and dance parties for its stimulating and enhancing effects.[34]

 

Signs of a problem

arents naturally are concerned for their children and want to know what the signs would be of drug use. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you know your child better than most. As a parent, you probably have experienced the feeling of “just knowing” something is not right when your child has a problem or is sick.

hen it comes to drug use, many of the signs one would look for can also be signs of any number of other things, from being unwell to natural adolescent hormone and mood fluctuations. Whether or not drugs are the issue, these signs are worth looking into because they may be signals that your child is experiencing problems:

  • Bloodshot eyes

  • A lasting cough or stuffiness

  • Unusual gain or loss of weight

  • Unusual mood swings

  • Retreat or withdrawal from family or other social activities

  • Being unhappy or depressed

  • Being suspicious, anxious, defensive, or overly protective

  • Coming home late

  • Being untruthful

  • Having problems with the law

  • Being unusually sleepy

  • A drop in grades

  • Missing or skipping school

  • Stealing money or items

  • Sudden change in friends

Concerns about any of these or other things out of the ordinary can be expressed in an atmosphere of love, trust, and support. It is always best to avoid jumping to conclusions or talking while angry. While over-reacting is usually non-productive, it is important to take seriously the possibility that a child may be in or headed for trouble.

If your child admits to trying drugs stay calm and explain your concerns about drug use. If he or she comes home obviously drunk or high, don’t get angry. Send them to their room and let them know you will discuss the situation in the morning. Check on them during the night and if they show signs of being seriously ill or in danger, call 911.

You also need to set boundaries. If you think your child has a substance use problem, you can start setting limits by not allowing drinking or drug use around you. Be clear about what behavior you will and will not tolerate. Don’t be afraid to set clear rules including not to come home drunk, high, or with drugs on them, or have drugs on the premises. Remember that you love them and your goal is to keep them safe and healthy. Condemn the behaviour, not the person.

 

When kids become addicted

or some young people, alcohol and drug use can quickly become more than just experimenting. They are using drugs on a daily basis or they are binge using on weekends. Use can become abuse if the consequences become serious: there are family problems, they lose friends, get expelled from school, lose a job, or get into legal trouble. If they continue to use despite the consequences, there is a good chance they have become psychologically or physically dependent.  

ngoing abuse causes changes in brain chemical systems and circuits. When these brain changes occur, the individual may need more of the substance to experience the same effect (tolerance) and may experience withdrawal symptoms when the substance is not present.

If you suspect your child has slipped into drug abuse or addiction, the first thing to do is get educated yourself. Read everything you can, take a workshop such as the Heart of a Family put on by the Little House Society in Delta, join an Al Anon or Nar Anon group or meet with other parents dealing with the same issues, or meet with a counsellor. Having the knowledge, support and professional advice will help you when it comes to that difficult conversation with your child about their drug abuse and getting help for them. If your child agrees to seek help, here are some things you should know about treatment:

Treatment: In Canada we have two primary types of treatment for both residential as well as outpatient care: abstinence-based and harm reduction. Although harm reduction has its place – e.g. methadone maintenance, support for marginalized populations, specific youth programs – abstinence should be the end goal.

Treatment should be regarded as a continuum of care that involves:

  • Intervention. The individual agrees to seek help, often reluctantly.

  • Assessment. An expert in addictions undertakes a full assessment to develop an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • Primary Care. The individual participates in a residential treatment program (or in some cases out-patient treatment). This stage may include a detoxification period.

  • Aftercare. A supervised continuing care program of at least 24 months is necessary to protect against relapse.

Don’t stop there. Remember that agreeing to treatment is only the first step toward getting well. Your child will need your direct support and steady involvement every step of the way if he or she is to get well.

Some parents have difficulty saying no to their children, even when they are abusing themselves and their family. They are in danger of what is called “enabling”; or, making it easier for the child to continue drug use by continually allowing them to break the rules without consequences or consistent consequences. This rarely helps the child and the problem usually continues to get worse until the child gets treatment for his/her addiction.

 

Things to ponder

  • “Adolescent smoking, drinking, misusing prescription drugs and using illegal drugs is, by any measure, a public health problem of epidemic proportion, presenting clear and present danger to millions of teenagers and severe and expensive long-range consequences for the entire population.” [35]

  • “Parents must recognize that substance use is a real and present threat to their teens’ health, safety, and future and take steps to prevent it.” [36]

  • Prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12 to 13 year olds. [37]

  • Teen drug abuse plays a major role in addiction. People who do not use tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs before age 21 are virtually certain never to do so. [38]

  • Research shows students who drank in high school are three times more likely to begin heavy episodic drinking in college. [39]

  • “Parents must recognize that substance use is a real and present threat to their teens’ health, safety, and future and take steps to prevent it.” [40]

  • Prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12 to 13 year olds. [41]

 
  1. Youth and Alcohol, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Winter 2014. Web.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Cassandra, Raychelle. "Teen Binge Drinking: All Too Common." Psychology Today. N.p., 26 Feb. 2013. Web.

  5. Machold, Dr. Clea. "1 in 25 Canadians in Middle School Say They Binge Drink." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 12 May 2014. Web.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Youth and Alcohol, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Winter 2014. Web.

  8. Health Canada. "About Prescription Drug Abuse." Canada.ca. 14 Apr. 2016.

  9. Ibid.

  10. "Drug Free Kids Canada." Drug Free Kids Canada. Web.

  11. Ibid.

  12. "Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse." DrugFacts: Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Web.

  13. McKee, Geoff MD, Amlani, Ashraf, MPH, Buxton, Jane A., MBBS, MHSc, FRCPC. BCMJ, Vol. 57, No. 6, July, August, 2015, page(s) 235 — BC Centre for Disease Control.

  14. "Drug Free Kids Canada." Drug Free Kids Canada. Web.

  15. Gatehouse, Jonathon, and Nancy Macdonald. "Fentanyl: The King of All Opiates, and a Killer Drug Crisis." Macleans.ca. 21 Sept. 2015. Web.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Fentanyl Safety for First Responders, Fentanyl Safety. Web.

  19. "Fentanyl." DrugFacts: Fentanyl | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 03 June 2016. Web.

  20. "RCMP Releases Video on the Dangers of Fentanyl." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police., 13 Sept. 2016. Web.

  21. Stewart, Eric. "RCMP Gazette." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police., 24 June 2016. Web.

  22. Egred, M. Cocaine and The Heart. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2005, 81, 568-571.

  23. Nestler, E. Historical Review: Molecular And Cellular Mechanisms Of Opiate And Cocaine Addiction. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 2004, 25, 210-218.

  24. Carlezon Jr., W. Regulation Of Cocaine Reward By CREB. Science 1998, 282, 2272-2275.

  25. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586

  26. Breiter, H.; Gollub, R.; Weisskoff, R.; Kennedy, D.; Makris, N.; Berke, J.; Goodman, J.; Kantor, H.; Gastfriend, D.; Riorden, J. et al. Acute Effects Of Cocaine On Human Brain Activity And Emotion. Neuron 1997, 19, 591-611.

  27. Kloner, R.; Hale, S.; Alker, K.; Rezkalla, S. The Effects Of Acute And Chronic Cocaine Use On The Heart. Circulation 1992, 85, 407-419.

  28. Pozner, C.; Levine, M.; Zane, R. The Cardiovascular Effects Of Cocaine. The Journal of Emergency Medicine 2005, 29, 173-178.

  29. Boys, A. Understanding Reasons For Drug Use Amongst Young People: A Functional Perspective. Health Education Research 2001, 16, 457-469.

  30. Davis, Kathleen. "Methamphetamine: Side Effects, Health Risks and Withdrawal." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, Web.

  31. Teter, C.; Guthrie, S. A Comprehensive Review Of MDMA And GHB: Two Common Club Drugs. Pharmacotherapy 2001, 21, 1486-1513.

  32. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  33. Hudson, A.; Lalies, M.; Baker, G.; Wells, K.; Aitchison, K. Ecstasy, Legal Highs And Designer Drug Use: A Canadian Perspective. Drug Science, Policy and Law 2013, 1.

  34. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26.

  35. Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem, The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, June 2011

  36. Ibid.

  37. SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings." SAMHSA, CBHSQ. Web.

  38. National Survey on American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens, The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, August 2012

  39. Wechsler, Henry, and Toben F. Nelson. "What We Have Learned From the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study: Focusing Attention on College Student Alcohol Consumption and the Environmental Conditions That Promote It." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 69.4 (2008): 481-90. Web.

  40. Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem, The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, June 2011

  41. SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings." SAMHSA, CBHSQ. Web

Knowledge is Power

This blog hopes to impart a little knowledge about drugs and their impact. Knowledge empowers us because it helps us make better decisions. Decisions you make about drugs could literally mean life and death. This information has been developed with you in mind. Given how prevalent and accessible drugs are today, it is important to have the right facts to help you make informed decisions about using drugs when and if an opportunity arises.

While the use of drugs is not a new concept, the type of drugs are new. Modern drugs have increased potency, include a wide variety, and have an ease of availability. Both legal and illegal drugs seem to be everywhere. Drugs can either save a life, or end it. You do not have to do drugs regularly to experience life-altering or potentially fatal consequences. One night of drinking and driving under the influence can lead to disability or death; a dose of cocaine could cause a fatal heart attack. Each of these tragic outcomes are preventable with a little bit of knowledge.

 

Speaking up

You’re with family and friends and someone offers you a drink, a joint, or maybe a pill – that’s how it can start. You have a choice to say yes or no. What do you do? It helps to stop and take a moment to understand what you’re taking and why you’re taking it before you say yes. Are you experimenting? Trying to fit in? Wanting to avoid thinking about something stressful at home or in your life?[1]  

Saying “no” to friends or family can be tough. It helps to think about possible ways to avoid using before the time comes. Here are some examples of passing on the opportunity to do drugs:

  • “No thanks. I have to get up early tomorrow.”

  • “I’m good. I’ve had quite a bit already.”

  • “Just not feeling it tonight.”

  • “I’m okay, thanks. I promised my friend I’d watch out for her tonight.”

  • It's also okay to use "No thanks", as sometimes people appreciate straightforward honesty: "No thanks, I don't want any." There are ways to counter specific arguments. Check out this site for additional suggestions or this site for girls.

 

Talking it over

Talking about drugs can sometimes feel super awkward. Whether you have questions or you’re concerned about a friend or family member, it can be hard to figure out who to turn to for support or answers. There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information out there. Who’s the best person to ask? It’ll depend on your comfort level, but here are some good options:

Your parents:  As you’ve moved through school, maybe you’ve started to share a bit less with your parents and started talking with your friends more. But your parents were once teens too and they can understand the pressures that you might be facing. You might feel really awkward bringing up the subject of drugs and that is okay. Its very likely your parents will want to have a conversation about drugs too. They also may know other people in the community to talk to, such as a doctor or counsellor. Many teens are confused about what their parents’ stance on partying and drugs is, so ask questions like “How late can I stay out?” and “Can I call you if I ever end up somewhere I don’t feel comfortable?” It might be helpful to ask straight out:  “How would you react if I used drugs?”

Your counsellor or teacher: If you know a particular adult at school whom you trust, talk to them! Counsellors especially know of different resources within the community, and will be able to guide you to someone else if they don’t have all of the answers. There are even ways to bring up the topic in class, such as in a bio class. For example, if you’re studying the heart you can ask how a certain drug affects it.

Another adult in your life: There are a lot of really great people around us. Maybe you’re close with your hockey coach or your camp counsellor. These people may not be able to answer all your questions, but they probably care about you and will help you to find the answers you’re looking for.

Your Friends: They’re probably the first people you turn to with questions, but they might have as many questions as you do. However, talking with a good friend who will listen and be supportive can be very helpful. They can also help you decide how to talk to your parents or another adult. The more we bring up our concerns about drug use, the more open the conversation can become.

When you try and decide who to talk with, there are three questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Is my happiness and health important to them? You want someone who cares about you and your well being.

  2. Do I admire them? Whomever you talk with about drugs should be someone you want to emulate because their advice will be a reflection of who they are.

  3. Will they listen to me? You should find someone who can listen non-judgmentally to your questions and concerns without jumping straight to advice-giving or lecturing.

If you have concerns about a friend’s or family member’s use:

Maybe you’ve noticed your friend skipping class more, being less likely to hang out, or they’ve become moodier. Maybe your sibling is not home very often or you’ve seen them use substances when your parents are out. Whoever it is, it’s difficult to get that conversation started when you’re concerned about someone else. It’s important to start a discussion when the person is relaxed and the two of you are just hanging out. Ask questions like, “Hey, I missed you in class today. Are you doing okay?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been going out a lot lately and I’m worried”. You can even be straightforward about your concerns: “I’m worried that you have been using alcohol or drugs lately”

Listening to their side of the story is important. Don’t use a judgmental or accusing tone. Let them know that you’re concerned and that you’re always available to talk. Having someone who is supportive is important. Remember, you can’t “fix” them, but you can give them some guidance on who to talk to and resources that they can access.

 

Fast Facts

  • A heroin user who spends $50 a day on the drug could save $180,000 over a decade, were it not for their addiction. A cocaine abuser with a $75-a-day habit would save $250,000 over ten years.[2] 

  • 1 in 10 Canadians 15 years of age and over report symptoms consistent with alcohol or illicit drug dependence.[3] 

  • 60% of illicit drug users in Canada are between the ages of 15 and 24.[4] 

  • In Canada one in every 16 visits to the ER were related to alcohol use.[5]

  • Adolescence is a critical period both for starting to smoke, drink or use other drugs, and, as a result, for experiencing more harmful consequences.[6]

  • If you have addiction in the family or a family history of trauma and mental health or behavioural problems, you are at greater risk of developing an addiction.[7]

  • When it comes to tobacco,there is good news. The Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (2016) found declines in both the numbers of students who had ever tried smoking and current smokers. The percentage of students who smoke tobacco fell to about 3 per cent in 2014-15 from 4 per cent a year earlier.[8]

 

  1. Kuntsche, E.; Knibbe, R.; Gmel, G.; Engels, R. Why Do Young People Drink? A Review of Drinking Motives. Clinical Psychology Review 2005, 25, 841-861.

  2. Buggle, Annabelle. "After 40-Year Fight, Illicit Drug Use at All-Time High." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Web.

  3. "Health at a Glance." Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. 27 Nov. 2015. Web.

  4. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA). (2007). A Drug Prevention Strategy for Canada’s Youth. Ottawa, ON: CCSA.

  5. Thomas, G. (2012). Levels and patterns of alcohol use in Canada. (Alcohol Price Policy Series: Report 1) Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

  6. Crews, Fulton, Jun He, and Clyde Hodge. "Adolescent Cortical Development: A Critical Period of Vulnerability for Addiction." Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 86.2 (2007): 189-99. Web

  7. Nordqvist, Christian. "Addiction Risk Factors." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 4 Jan. 2016. Web.

  8. Canadian Press. "Canadian Teens Are Smoking Less Tobacco, but Marijuana Popular." Thestar.com. 14 Sept. 2016. Web.

Marijuana - What's the deal?

Marijuana, the most commonly used illegal drug, is a combination of shredded leaves, stems and flower buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. It can be smoked, eaten, vaporized, brewed and even taken topically, but most people smoke it. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is a dangerous drug and continued use can have serious consequences on the normal functioning of your body.

With all the talk these days about legalizing marijuana, it can be hard to sift through all the information that’s out there. No doubt at some point you will be given an opportunity to try it while being told that it’s no big deal and won’t do any harm. However, make sure you have all the facts so you are able to make an informed decision.

 

A few things to ponder

  • It’s addictive. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is an addictive drug. One in six youth who try it become addicted, while one in 10 adults who try it become addicted.[1]

  • It’s been genetically modified. The cannabis plant of today is not what Mother Nature intended. In the 1960s and ‘70s, THC levels of marijuana averaged around 1%, increasing to just under 4% in 1983, and almost tripling again in the subsequent 30 years to around 11% in 2011.[2] THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and the high potency levels found in modern marijuana can result in experiencing psychosis. In the meantime, CBD (Cannabidiol), which counter acts the anxiety-inducing properties of THC, remains the same.[3]

  • It impairs how your brain and body work together. Everything slows down when you smoke pot. That might feel good when you’re trying to escape the stresses of your life, but you can put yourself and others at risk when you are functioning at a slower level. For example, since becoming legal in Colorado, fatal car accidents involving drivers testing positive for marijuana rose by 112%. [4]

  • It can change your brain. Studies have shown that using marijuana before the age of 21 can significantly change brain structures and functioning. Youth with poor academic results are more than four times likely to have used marijuana in the past year than youth with an average of higher grades. [5] Frequent use, especially starting around 13, is associated with memory trouble, not doing as well in school, and impaired thinking.[6] One study that followed people for 20 years found that those who had smoked frequently in their youth had an average IQ of 8 points lower, even after they had quit.[7] 

  • It can increase depression and anxiety. You might start smoking pot because you believe it will help you deal with anxiety and depression. In truth, it is not long before it exacerbates these conditions resulting in cannabis use disorder (CUD), anxiety/mood disorders, cognitive dysfunction, psychosis, and schizophrenia.[8] If you or a family member has a history of mental illness, you’re also at an increased risk of developing psychosis.

  • It can negatively impact your physical health. Using pot has been shown to weaken your immune system, leaving you susceptible to all kinds of respiratory problem including increased coughing, phlegm, wheezing, and infection. For guys, the risk for testicular cancer increases by 70 percent, and not only that, it has been shown to cause sexual impotency. [9]

  • It can be laced with pesticides. There are no standards for growing marijuana, so many of the chemicals applied to pot plants are intended only for lawns and other non-edibles. Medical cannabis samples collected in Los Angeles have been found to contain pesticide residues at levels 1600 times the legal digestible amount. [10]

  • It kills wildlife and harms the environment. Something you might not know is that environment researchers have found that pot farms in California are endangering wildlife such as salmon and black bears. “Farmers” have illegally mowed down trees, graded hilltops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams, and polluted watersheds. [11]

  • It can be a gateway to other drugs. There is a consistent association found between using marijuana and progression to the use of other substances.[12]

A closer look -- your brain and marijuana

Let’s take a closer look at what happens when you take a hit.

THC enters your bloodstream and crosses into your brain, binding to cells containing cannabinoid receptors.[13] These receptors are part of the endocannabiniod system, which helps us with memory, thinking, learning, balance, and concentration. Activating this system causes your brain to release dopamine, giving you that “high” feeling. [14]

Some users experience heightened sensory perception, with colors appearing more vivid and noises being louder. For some, marijuana can cause an altered perception of time and an increased appetite, or the “munchies.”

The impact of using marijuana can vary by person, how often they have used the drug, the strength of the drug, and how often it has been since they have gotten high, among other factors.

Other effects, according to the American National Institute of Health (NIH), include:

  • Feelings of panic, anxiety and fear (paranoia)

  • Hallucinations

  • Increased heart rate

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Decreased ability to perform tasks that require coordination

  • Decreased interest in completing tasks

When coming down from the high, users may feel depressed or extremely tired. While marijuana use produces a mellow experience for some, it can also heighten agitation, anxiety, insomnia and irritability, according to the NIH.

 

Fast Facts

  • Marijuana doubles the risk of car crash.[15]

  • Marijuana reaches the same pleasure centers in the brain that are targeted by heroin, cocaine and alcohol.[16]

  • Marijuana disrupts short-term memory but not long-term memory. This effect occurs because of marijuana’s impact on the hippocampus, that part of the brain responsible for memory formation. The hippocampus normally loses neurons due to aging. Chronic marijuana use seems to increase that loss.[17]

  • Marijuana may affect certain neurons in the brain that are normally responsible for suppressing appetite, and this effect may explain why people often get very hungry after smoking pot, according to a 2015 study in mice.[18] 

  • A growing number of studies show that regular marijuana use ( once a week or more)  actually changes the structure of the teenage brain, making it harder for teens to cope with social situations and the normal pressures of life.[19]

  • Studies done on lab rats suggests cognitive deficits linked to marijuana use may be long-term. Even after the equivalent of nine human years without marijuana exposure, rats given marijuana extract in adolescence showed residual mental deficits in learning and memory that persisted into adulthood. But rats given marijuana extract as young adults did not develop long-lasting impairments. The researcher says that cannabis receptors in the brains of humans and rodents work “in very similar ways.” [20]

 
  1. Sabet, Kevin A. Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana. New York, NY: Beaufort, 2013.

  2. National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. Cannabiniods; Research Brief; 2011.

  3. Iseger, T.; Bossong, M. A Systematic Review Of The Antipsychotic Properties Of Cannabidiol In Humans. Schizophrenia Research 2015, 162, 153-161.

  4. "Marijuana-Related Fatal Vehicle Accidents Increase 112 Percent in Six Years in Colorado." Institute for a Drug Free Workplace, 4 July 2014. Web

  5. Moore, T.; Zammit, S.; Lingford-Hughes, A.; Barnes, T.; Jones, P.; Burke, M.; Lewis, G. Cannabis Use And Risk Of Psychotic Or Affective Mental Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. The Lancet 2007, 370, 319-328.

  6. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,. Chronic Use And Cognitive Functioning And Mental Health; Clearing the Smoke on Cannabis; Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse: Ottawa, 2009.

  7. Meier, M.; Caspi, A.; Ambler, A.; Harrington, H.; Houts, R.; Keefe, R.; McDonald, K.; Ward, A.; Poulton, R.; Moffitt, T. Persistent Cannabis Users Show Neuropsychological Decline From Childhood To Midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2012, 109, E2657-E2664.

  8. Pletcher, M.; Vittinghoff, E.; Kalhan, R.; Richman, J.; Safford, M.; Sidney, S.; Lin, F.; Kertesz, S. Association Between Marijuana Exposure And Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years. JAMA 2012, 307, 173.

  9. "Marijuana Linked With Testicular Cancer." National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). N.p., 01 Dec. 2010. Web.

  10. "Is There a Link between Marijuana Use and Psychiatric Disorders?" | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Web.

  11. Peeples, Lynne. "Marijuana Pesticide Contamination Becomes Health Concern As Legalization Spreads." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 May 2013. Web.

  12. "Toke This: The Unexpected Effect of California's Pot Farm Explosion on Wildlife." TakePart. 26 July 2013. Web.

  13. Fergusson, D.; Boden, J.; Horwood, L. Cannabis Use And Other Illicit Drug Use: Testing The Cannabis Gateway Hypothesis. Addiction 2006, 101, 556-569.

  14. Niesink, R.; van Laar, M. Does Cannabidiol Protect Against Adverse Psychological Effects Of THC?. Front. Psychiatry 2013, 4.

  15. Bostwick, J. Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics And Politics Of Medical Marijuana. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2012, 87, 172-186.

  16. Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  17. Inaba, Darryl and William E. Cohen. Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. Ashland, Or.: CNS Publications, 2000. 251-252.

  18. Blaszczak-Boxe, Agata. "Marijuana Munchies May Come from Scrambled Neuron Signals." Live Science. N.p., 18 Feb. 2015. Web.

  19. "Behavior & the Teen Brain." Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Web.

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